We Want What We Want!

“We Want What We Want!”

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20 (8:5) – June 6, 2021

            Is there anything you ever really wanted? I mean, really, really wanted? So much that you could taste it? Were you absolutely certain – after you got it – that this thing would make you really happy, so happy you never would wish for anything else ever again?

I know my children wanted things like bicycles, and iPods, roller skates and cell phones, during their growing-up time. I know that occasionally they even said if they just were to get that much desired thing, then they never would ask for anything else, ever again.

            We see that deep wish, that urgent desire expressed here in our Scripture reading today, from 1 Samuel chapter 8. The people of Israel really, really wanted a king. An earthly king, like all the other tribes and nations around them had.

            Just to orient ourselves to time and place, the time period of 1 Samuel was after the people of Israel came to the promised land of Canaan, conquered it, and lived in it for several hundred years. Samuel is known as the last Judge, and a prophet of God. The prophets helped the people of Israel understand messages from God, and helped lead and guide the people, too.

            The people of Israel wanted a king. But, what is the matter with this sentiment? Samuel, knowing God a little better than many of the people of Israel, understood God had tried to be a heavenly King for Israel for several centuries, with the Judges being God’s right-hand guys. The Judges had been the Lord’s representatives on earth, judging, leading and governing the people of Israel for God.

            Except, this did not work out too well. We can see that from the fact that the people of Israel kept falling away from the worship of the Lord, and started to sin – to worship idols and other, false gods. This would happen again and again. Everything would be okay for a while. The Judge would govern the people, things would prosper, the people would become complacent, and then fall away from the Lord. The people would be conquered by a neighboring tribe, repent and call out to the Lord. Another Judge would rise to chase the tribes out of Israel and bring the people back to the worship of the one, true God. Again and again this familiar pattern happened.

Does it sound familiar to you? Have your friends or family members fallen away from the Lord and had problems or difficulties, and needed to get right with God? This sadly familiar situation happens again and again, throughout the centuries. Not just in the time of the Judges.

 The elderly Samuel knew better. He had walked with the Lord for a number of years, and he understood exactly what the people of Israel were asking for. Perhaps the people thought the earthly king would protect them, or make them strong, or even have great wisdom. Perhaps a king would make the other tribes and nations respect the people of Israel! After all, the nation Israel was a little like a football, getting tossed around from tribe to tribe for the past few centuries. Perhaps Samuel’s feelings were hurt by the people’s demand! After all, he was the Judge appointed by the Lord, and he was the one who was God’s representative. But, no. The people wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. They really, really wanted a king!

Does this sound familiar? Someone wants what they want, and no one can tell them any different. They stubbornly decide they really, really want it, and that is that.

Samuel tries to reason with the people. He knew how kings acted in other nations. Samuel told the people of Israel that a king would not treat them well. He tried to spell out exactly how much a king would cost the nation of Israel. A king would take a lot of their crops and animals as taxes, and recruit their sons to fight wars and daughters to work for him, and the people would eventually complain bitterly to the Lord about the king.

Predictably, the people refused to listen. They demanded a king from Samuel.

So, Samuel went before the Lord. The Lord told Samuel to give the people what they wanted. You know the proverb “Be careful what you wish for – you may get it.” That is exactly what happened to the people of Israel. God added a postscript: someday, the king would indeed treat the people of Israel poorly, even enslaving them.

When the people of Israel finally got their king, did it really, really make them happy? Was it the best, most prudent thing for the nation? I don’t know for sure, but I think not.

            Of course, looking back at the book of 1 Samuel, we now have 20/20 hindsight. We can see clearly the kinds of things the new King of Israel will require the nation to do for him. Sometimes, “we want what we want when we want it!” is definitely not the best decision for us.

            While we are talking about leaders, and leadership, some of our current leaders today are battered and bone-tired of serving in their agency or government structure. In the past 15 or 16 months, everything has been turned topsy-turvy and inside out. Even if they might not be the most effective or the “best” leaders, we can pray for them. We can ask God to help them govern and make decisions. We can support them, even if we did not vote for them or hire them. And, God bless our leaders, even if they lead differently than the way we think they ought to.

            Do you think we ought to demand things from God? Demand what we want when we want it? Or, is it a better idea to trust the Lord to know what we need? “In giving us what we so desperately want, God disciplines us so that we learn to leave these things in God’s hands. In biblical terms, we must focus on seeking God first, and trust Him to add all those things He deems best for us. Let us be cautious that our requests to God are not demands. Let us learn from the Israelites of old so that we need not walk the path they had to walk.” [1]

God truly wants a receptive, open heart. Don’t be like the people of Israel! Instead, have an open heart and a willing spirit. Hear the word of the Lord!

  • Alleluia, amen.

(I would like to thank Illustrated Worship for their summer Worship Bundle for 2021. I appreciate the thoughts and insights found for this Lectionary reading for June 6, 2021, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, which I used in the creation of this sermon.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/6-give-us-king-1-samuel-81-22

“Give Us a King! (1 Samuel 8:1-22),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

A Topsy-Turvy Palm Sunday

“A Topsy-Turvy Palm Sunday”

Mark 11:1-11 (11:9) – March 28, 2021

            When my children were little – preschoolers and kindergarteners – I attended a larger church. I can remember seeing my children, with many others, marching around the sanctuary, waving their palms. Something many people fondly remember, and greatly miss. We cannot celebrate a Palm Sunday procession right now, due to pandemic concerns. Some churches are starting to return to in-person worship, but with lots of changes and adaptations! But – was there a formal, planned Palm Sunday procession, all those centuries ago?

Let’s look at today’s reading from Mark 11. “They brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the animal, and Jesus got on. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches in the field and spread them on the road. The people who were in front and those who followed behind began to shout, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 God bless the coming kingdom of King David, our father! Praise be to God!”

            That description does sound like a procession, doesn’t it? But, a spontaneous one. An impromptu one. No one expected Jesus to march into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. It took everyone off guard.

Except – remember Holy Week, last year? Remember the sudden shock and heightened anxiety that surrounded the encroaching pandemic? No one was really ready for that, either. It took everyone off guard, too.

Jesus prepared to ride into Jerusalem on that unbroken colt, on a donkey that no one had ever ridden before. Sure, His disciples made preparations and fetched the colt, but Jesus rode this humble beast into the city. “There was a tradition from the book of Maccabees of a triumphal and victorious entry of a king (1 Maccabees 4:19-25; 5:45-54; 13:43-51) into Jerusalem; instead, Jesus comes in peace and relatively quietly. Jesus would have known the verse from Zechariah about the Messiah coming into Jerusalem riding on an unbroken colt (Zechariah 9:9). The colt had never been ridden before, which seems a significant fact.” [1]

We can see Jesus entered Jerusalem as a King! What a King – not parading in a fancy chariot or riding on a white stallion. None of the fine trappings or fancy costumes of a King. No royal robes for the humble Rabbi Jesus. Sure, Jesus displayed power as He took part in this procession. “Something unusual occurs: Jesus has power, power over nature, again not the kind of power that is normally associated with kingship or political leadership. He is demonstrating a different kind of power, that in time people will recognise as evidence of His divinity.” [2]

Have you experienced something unusual in this Holy Week? What about last year’s Holy Week, and all the weeks in between? Sure, the world has been turned topsy-turvy. Everything has shifted, and nothing – it seems – is the same. But, hasn’t Jesus displayed His power in this modern Palm Sunday procession in the middle of the pandemic? Just as He displayed unusual power and authority in that Palm Sunday procession so long ago?

No, there were no kingly trumpets blaring as Jesus made the procession. But, people raised their voices when they saw the impromptu parade. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Praise God!” We might not be able to raise our actual, physical voices, but we can lift our hearts. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

As we reflect further on power – the kind of power Jesus displayed, which was definitely not worldly, raw, overbearing power! As we think about the gentle, spiritual, yet foundational power that Jesus embodies, what other memories come to mind from this past year of pandemic? Many in our country have a sharpened awareness of power – and the absence of it. Who has power, and who is using it.

As we think about essential workers, so many of them are low-wage workers. Workers who must go into a facility to do their jobs, or who punch a time-clock. Plus, workers put their health and even their lives on the line every time they go into work. “Those often paid least in our society are crucial to maintaining and caring; delivery, stocking and serving in shops. The majority of people who have lost jobs are people earning less than £10 an hour, while the rich have got richer.” [3] What would Jesus say about the increasing inequities of this past year?

Jesus and His Palm Sunday procession is a continuation of the topsy-turvy way He presented Himself to Israel as their King, as their Messiah. If we follow Jesus, we are certainly not called to be of this world. Jesus commands us not to get too comfortable or self-satisfied. That self-satisfied, self-righteous lifestyle was what many of the leaders and teachers of Jesus’ time tried to maintain. Is that what we try to maintain, too? Are we too comfortable to follow Jesus, to take up our Cross and follow Him down that difficult road of discipleship?

This week, I invite you to walk with Jesus, in that topsy-turvy way of discipleship. Not the self-satisfied, self-righteous strut, but the humble, kind walk with our Lord. Jesus walked through this Holy Week with eyes wide open. He knew what lay at the end of it – crucifixion and the Cross. As we travel with Jesus through this particular Holy Week, “are you more aware of what comes at the end of it? Because we know what comes next in a way we maybe never did before. But even more than that, perhaps because we also know our need of God in ways we maybe never did before.” [4]

Yes, we can say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” I invite all of us to travel with Jesus through these topsy-turvy times, because He is the one who will keep our steps safe and help us even when we stumble. Even on the way of the Cross. Amen, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/74513/28-March-6-Sunday-in-Lent.pdf

The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Jenny Williams, Minister of Drylaw Parish Church, for her thoughts on Palm/Passion Sunday, sixth in Lent.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://dancingwiththeword.com/whispering-hosanna/

Your King Comes to You

Matthew 21:1-11 – April 9, 2017

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

“Your King Comes to You”

Has anyone here ever been at a really big “welcome home” celebration? I am thinking really, really big! Like, after the Cubs won the World Series last fall, and they returned to Chicago in triumphant victory. Or, after the Black Hawks, the White Sox or the Bulls won their championships. Has anyone experienced the joyful, expectant feeling of the crowd? The wild cheering and celebration as the focal point of the parade came into view?

Imagine that level of celebration, and then add an additional layer. The country of Israel had been under the heel of various world powers for several centuries. The Roman government was the current dominating overlords, and an ever-present occupying force. By Jesus entering Jerusalem in the way He did, He fulfilled a well-known prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures. In addition, by doing this He was claiming the mantle of Messiah, the Anointed One of God. As Zechariah said, “Tell the city of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey.”

What about the crowd gathered there in Jerusalem, for the Passover holiday? Emotions run high when you are in the midst of a crowd. Higher highs, lower lows, all kinds of extremes. As Rev. Adam Copeland said, “Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.” [1]

What was the crowd looking for from Rabbi Jesus? This Messiah, Anointed One?    

A companion question: what were the disciples looking for from Jesus? From their Rabbi and leader, whom they had been following for months, even years? I remind everyone that there were more than just twelve men following after Jesus. There were more. Maybe Peter’s wife, maybe others’ wives or sisters. Women, other men, maybe even some children and youths. Many of these had been faithful in following Jesus for some time, and they were true believers. Faithful followers.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a man of deep prayer. He instructed many in the way of deep, significant prayer. He had a special way of praying, which can also be used for reading the Bible. Ignatian spirituality, prayer and bible reading have been adapted from his instructions.

St. Ignatius would have us put ourselves into the biblical scene. Imagine yourself right there, on that Palm Sunday morning. I invite you to choose a place to stand: either among the crowd, observing, cheering; or among the disciples, close in to Jesus and the donkey. Perhaps even take the donkey’s point of view! Let us all immerse ourselves into the narrative. Hear the raucous noises and roar of the crowd. Feel the jostling shoulders as we jockey for position, to get the best view of the parade. Because, that is what it is! A procession! A joyful entrance into Jerusalem, the historic capital city of King David!

Can you feel the energy of that immense crowd? Jerusalem was full to bursting! People of Jewish ancestry had come to Jerusalem from all over the known world, to commemorate the Passover holiday. And, here were people welcoming this Messiah, this Anointed One, into the city like a king.

Can you feel the emotions of your fellow crowd members? What expectations are rising to the fore? Some desperate to throw off the heavy yoke of the Roman occupation, and so are delighted to see someone, at last, taking up the mantle of the Messiah! To call together the men of Israel and lead the Jewish army to victory! Some, I am sure, leery of this upstart Rabbi, and wondering how far He is going to get before the Romans scare Him off. And others, simply caught up in all the excitement of the moment, welcoming this Holy Man, this Miracle Worker, into the city of Jerusalem.

What were the expectations of those there, on that Palm Sunday morning? Sure, as our Gospel reading tells us, there was a large crowd around the city gate, ready to cheer and wave and make noise. The noise and celebration put the whole city into an uproar, turning things inside out and upside down.  In fact, the Greek verb in that phrase, “uproar,” is the same word used for an earthquake. Jesus shook up the people of Jerusalem, and He certainly stirred up the religious leaders and priests.

Let us fast forward, to the present. What are our expectations, right here, right now? What are we to do with this Jesus, riding in on a donkey?

Sure, there are many people in churches across the world today who are excited to celebrate another Palm Sunday. A highlight of the liturgical year, the beginning of Holy Week. Some are caught up in the pageantry and celebration. Others are content to wave their palms and observe things from the sidelines. Many, even, feel the solemn beginning of that sorrowful Holiest Week of the liturgical year. But, is there more?

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem was so typical of Jesus. He did not blindly accept these short-sighted expectations that were foisted upon Him. Instead, Jesus knew who He was, and did not need to clutch any lofty or power-hungry or mean and angry persona to Himself. No, Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing exactly who He was. God’s much beloved Son, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. He had all that kingly authority already.

Let us remind ourselves exactly why Jesus had come into the world, exactly why He began His preaching, teaching and healing ministry. He came preaching forgiveness and mercy. He came teaching love and reconciliation. He came healing people from physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual diseases. Jesus came to give us life, and life abundantly!

But, today, Jesus’s voice gets drowned out by countless distractions. “Choked as we are by all of our distractions and tranquilizers—our cars, our houses, our 60-inch televisions and 6-inch computers, our smartphones and gizmos and gadgets, all of our conveniences and drugs and entertainment—we are likely to lose sight of the gate into heaven.” [2]

So often today, many people’s attention gets pulled away from things of God. Some are too busy to see Jesus. Some are too worried to listen to His voice. Some today couldn’t even care if Jesus lived or died.

Let’s focus on people within the church, worldwide. Some celebrate and wave palms on Palm Sunday and are content to let the whole rest of Holy Week slide right by without it registering on their hearts, then slide right into the following week’s celebration on Easter Sunday without a second thought. [3]

Jesus rides into our midst today, humble and seated on a donkey. He asks us the pointed question: what is it we seek in Jesus? Have we lost sight of the forgiveness, mercy, love and reconciliation He offers? He offers it to us, freely.

We can ask our Lord Jesus to enter our hearts, and to help us to lay at His feet all that we have and are today.

God willing, may we say “blessed are You who comes in the name of the Lord.”

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-adam-j-copeland/palm-powered-protest_b_5106331.html

“Palm Powered Protest,” Adam Copeland, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2014

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/palm-passion-sunday1; The Preaching Notes are written by Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries, Discipleship Ministries, dchesser@UMCdiscipleship.org

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1546 ; “To Be Continued…” David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2011.